If you’re an Asian or African kid in Australia and you’ve never heard of the AFL, that could be about to change.
The league’s next step to attract talented youngsters into the game will be for all clubs to have academies.
While the NSW and Queensland clubs already have talent academies, the goal is for the other 14 to tap into sections of the community where AFL has had minimal impact.
This week, the Victorian clubs were assigned regions and the AFL will soon finalise the SA and WA teams’ academies.
Along with local communities, the AFL wants clubs to search for indigenous talent in remote areas such as the Pilbara and Kimberleys.
For example, Essendon have northwest Melbourne and West Arnhem in the Northern Territory as their academy regions.
“We’re seriously targeting under-represented sections of the community to make sure they feel welcome and attracted into the sport,” said AFL operations manager Mark Evans.
“The basic premise is we’ll use the expertise and resource and brand power of clubs out in regional communities to find and attract and develop young talent.”
The incentive for clubs is if they can find players and bring them through the AFL system, they can bid for them in the draft similar to what is available for the northern club academies.
The academies will start this year and will be for boys and girls.
Evans says they think they can run programs for 4000-5000 children in the first year and might double that number over the next three.
“We’ve been looking for ways that we can enhance that connection of AFL clubs with communities and help us tackle the participation challenges and development of talent,” he said.
“Australian football has not been traditionally good at attracting Asians or Africans to play our sport.
“If you’re from an Asian or African background – a definite qualification.”
He added the AFL had been working with clubs in the traditional football states for the past year on the academies project.
Once the SA and WA academies are organised, the AFL will also look at how it might operate in Tasmania.
Evans added a panel would assess the eligibility of players in the academy system through Victoria, SA and WA as they developed.